I have been trying valiantly, lately, to diversify my childrens’ evening meals.
(I’d been meaning to deal with the lack of inspiring cuisine in their diets for ages, but I hadn’t realized that it had reached a crisis point until my daughter had lunch at a friend’s house this week. Afterward, the friend’s mother confided to me that my daughter was the fussiest eater she had ever seen.
Friends, you can imagine the humiliation.)
It’s not that my children don’t eat healthily, but there is admittedly a certain lack of variety in their choices.
And of course, I am complicit: I am not often inspired to shake things up when I know that my attempts are likely to be met with the worst kind of childish scorn.
Still, when a rainy night like this one pulls me to the stove, the joy of cooking can easily make me forget that anyone could possibly not like a dish of early autumnal vegetables, melted slowly over low heat with plenty of butter and garlic and handfuls of herbs from the garden.
A leap of faith is required from all parties, and a side of cheese toast for the kids is a distinct possibility here, but this ratatouille-ish dish will be the main event.
And if I have to eat most of it myself (which is likely), I won’t mind a bit.
Rainy Night Ratatouille (ish)*
This is lacking cheese and tomatoes, so not exactly your traditional ratatouille. But the basic delicious flavours are there, and sometimes, at least with my children, simpler is better.
3-4 tbsp butter
1 medium eggplant, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium zucchini, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium red pepper, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp ground rosemary
a handful of fresh basil, finely chopped
In a large, deep frying pan with a lid, melt butter over medium heat. Add eggplant, zucchini, and red pepper, and cook, stirring, about 10 minutes, or until fragrant but not yet beginning to colour. Add garlic, salt, oregano, and rosemary and stir well. Cover and reduce heat to low.
Cook, covered, 15 minutes, until vegetables are very tender and looking a little soupy. Remove cover from pan, increase heat to medium, and cook a further 5 minutes, until excess liquid evaporates.
Stir in fresh basil and serve.
Serves 2 adults, or about 47 picky children.
*I have to tell you that I cannot wait to try this dish with the best steak ever.
I use the term “my garden” fairly loosely, since it will soon belong to someone else – which is why it is so overgrown.
I have no complaints about the mint and chives, though – they are two of my favourites, and I am happy to have them in abundance, at least for the time being (my new garden is lovely and lush, but also very well-ordered; so, for this growing season, anyway, there will be no invasive herbs running amok).
Between the mint and the heat, our meals have been largely inspired by the Mediterranean – a lot of grilling, quite a lot of olive oil and garlic, some rosemary, some lamb.
I am now at the point of almost constantly fantasizing about my new kitchen and all of the things that will happen in it: long, lingering conversations, slow cooked dinners, multi-course breakfasts (really!).
But until we get there, the order of the day is meals in minutes.
I am aiming generally for luscious, robust things that will fill me and cheer me, and can be made in the amount of time it would otherwise take to scoop some ice cream into a bowl.
I found this dish fit the bill admirably.
Lunch in minutes
I used a grilled eggplant leftover from a previous meal, which is why this took so little time for me to cobble together; but if you don’t happen to have any leftovers on hand, the grilling only adds a few minutes to your prep time.
1 medium eggplant, sliced crosswise and grilled
1 pint grape tomatoes, halved
2 tbsp finely chopped fresh chives
3 tbsp finely chopped fresh mint
1/4c extra virgin olive oil
1 tbsp wine vinegar
100g feta, crumbled
Cut grilled eggplant slices into cubes.
Combine all ingredients in a large salad bowl , toss gently, and serve.
Serves 4, as a side dish